[Please note that victim accounts here make this a trigger piece. Caution advised.]
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The Empire State building tweeted last Wednesday. “Tonight,” it said, “we’ll glow purple for @NYCagainstabuse’s Go Purple Day & Domestic Violence Awareness Month. #UpStander,” bore the hashtag; a tweet which resonated across the world.
Today, Oscar Pistorius got just 5 years for culpable homicide of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp – and some men are saying he should not even be going to jail, with Times journalist Simon Jenkins this week failing to even name Reeva as the victim in his Comment commission for the Guardian – leading to the hashtag HerNameWasReevaSteenkamp over on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Laura* (*name changed) started a new life away from a domestic abuse refuge shelter this weekend.
“They’ve helped me get to this point. I have to get on with my life, and life is too short for me to dwell and suffer. I feel stronger and self-reliant. But I feel alone. I don’t know. I feel better alone.”
The beauty and strength upheld by a physical and visual urban beacon cannot be underestimated. Yet, what can be underestimated, and covered on only the page 25s of this world, is the significance of October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Domestic violence is a taboo: no-one wants to talk about it, or read about it. It’s easier to ignore than confront your belief system about it. It’s easier for you to
In the UK, there is actually no crime under the law specifically labelled ‘domestic violence’. One woman dies every day from domestic violence – and perpetrators are often charged with crimes less serious than the original offence. (British Crime Survey 2004-5 (Finney, 2006) and from Hester (2005). See also Crime in England and Wales 06/07 report.)
“Getting away… and not loving him was…people don’t get it. But I think that’s where the taboo comes from. I knew people were thinking, ‘Oh, why doesn’t she just leave him?'”
“Optimism and fear can be as stubborn as the violence,” she says with a slight wobble, the phone crackling against the whirr of the train.
“It’s taken me a full year to actually start again. But it’s a year of my life, back; it’s mine. I’m damaged and I don’t want to get into a relationship for a long time. No way. Not until I feel safer in the world.”
Laura currently mentors with a community group and is now an active unionist and feminist. “I never would have said that before. Not because I never was, but I didn’t understand what it meant and how complicated feminism is.
I ask her if being feminist has helped her within the mental and physical recovery. She pauses first.
“I don’t hate men. S***, saying that is hard. But I don’t. Feminism gives me courage, though. It’s reminded me of who I am, who I was even; and that I did believe in myself – just like I was before I met him.”
Women’s Aid is England’s renowned domestic violence charity which helps, supports and protects women and children who suffer. They report:
“In 30% of domestic violence incidents reported to the police, no action is taken.
In a further 38% of cases, they give a warning, only.
On average, 26% of reported incidents results in arrest – and just over a quarter of these lead to a charge (7% of all reported incidents.)”
Laura says this isn’t good enough, and that following a bindover her ex-partner is currently still at large with the capacity to physically harm other women and children.
“The first time the police came around, because I had no immediate bruising or visual indication of the assault there wasn’t anything they could do. They took statements and warned us both. I was hysterical.”
“The abuse made me forget that I enjoyed life and hobbies on my own terms.
“But I’m playing piano again now,” and her smile is very audible at this point. It’s joyful to hear. “It’s a start.”
My own experience with domestic violence was thankfully brief but also shameful, as I quickly returned the same punch in the face to the aggressor as received; a dangerous and extremely careless decision which could have easily resulted in a consequence much worse. Clearly it’s not recommended and it was one of the stupidest and most disgusting things I’d ever done in my 19 years of naive life.
Heartrendingly, some of my friends have recently been in far worse situations. They were able to leave – but not without bearing large scars and mental anguish which remain today. Brave, strong, beautiful women: the urge to seek revenge was frequently a dominating theme in my social life. Not healthy, sure. But I would also challenge anyone who hasn’t experienced this directly – would you feel different? Would you truly be able to forgive the perpetrator? Could you really accept an apology? Especially knowing that unless there’s fiscal or photographic evidence there’s actually very little the police, or a hospital, or family or friends would be able to do to stop this person attacking someone else.
Or would it be something that takes a very, very long time to understand?
One in four women will be beaten, or abused by someone in her lifetime – that’s a quarter of all women, worldwide; based on reported figures. Apropos that average, if you’re sitting on a packed double-decker bus, there will be about 10 passengers whose mental health and lives are at serious risk due to domestic violence. Some will have a serious mental health illness as a result including depression and anxiety.
At least one of them will die within the year.
Laura was luckier than some. She has a support network comprising friends and few family members. Many, many women are not as lucky as this. As ever with crimes that are the most violent and the most cruel, the unreported cases disappear and are often buried with the abused – the perpetrators able to do it again; bully, mentally destroy, ‘take down’ and even kill, over and over again.
The Mayor of New York understands this.
“Awareness is the greatest tool we have to address the issue of domestic violence, which is a largely under-reported crime,” said Bill DeBlasio as the lights went up across the Big Apple.
Under-reported, avoided and poorly dealt with by society at large: the gap between the DV definition, perception and how to survive it, is unsurprisingly wide.
“Domestic violence is when a woman is beaten up by her husband,” said an architect I worked with during a strained conversation at work recently of what his definition would be; and while his moralistic stance which provided the context was certainly admirable, the definition wasn’t quite right. As above, DV includes mental and emotional violence which is designed to sabotage a life and can often be the result of unresolved childhood issues in the aggressor.
Secondly, media coverage is cis, hetero and adult-centric. Men can be victims of domestic violence too; along with women in lesbian relationships, and a proportion of the trans community are finally realised to be a major part of the silent crimes which go unpunished and unexplored. Children are the unheard victims domestic violence. It is an issue which the government recognises but lacks in its resources for proper DV investigation, legislation and treatement. Worse, these cases are even more taboo and worse – it is silent – in the media at large.
So what is domestic violence?
“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:• psychological• physical• sexual• financial• emotionalControlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”**This definition includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.
And according to the Istanbul Convention, psychological violence is “the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats.”
In the US alone over just one year, 10 million men and women are subjected to domestic violence. That’s one person every three seconds. Three seconds is about the time it takes to read this sentence. According to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence in the US, that’s a quarter of all men and a third of all women.
It’s the elephant in the room.
It’s the man who smashes his partner’s head into a stair banister.
It’s the woman who kicks her partner to the ground.
It’s the child who wears long sleeves to hide the bruises at school.
It’s the man who threatens their partner that they must stay inside, and they are not allowed out without their permission unless they want to face being restrained at the neck and raped.
It’s the woman who picks up a knife and places it against her partner’s face until they get their way.
It’s the child hit across the stomach with a cricket bat.
Sure. Skip over; click on something else – carry on pretending it doesn’t exist.
Or, start talking about it.
If you are suffering from domestic violence in the UK, the following numbers are free to call for advice, support and refuge.
Women’s Aid and Refuge: 0808 2000 247 [24 hours]
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 [24 hours]
Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327 [Mon-Fri 9-5]
ManKind Initiative: 01823 334 244
Childline: 0800 1111
NSPCC: 0808 800 5000
Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90